When a person is injured in an accident, whether it be a motor vehicle accident, or an accident at work, depending on their circumstances, they may be entitled to damages. There is often confusion about the types of damages that can be awarded to claimants, and I will address some of these below.

Punitive damages

One often hears stories in the media, usually coming out of the United States, about massive punitive damages awards being imposed. It seems that courts (or, rather, juries) in the United States frequently order defendants to pay tens of millions of dollars as punitive damages.

Punitive damages are money awards that are ordered with a view to punishing the defendant for the high-handed way in which the defendant acted. Punitive damages are sometimes referred to as exemplary damages.

Plaintiffs in Australia will be disappointed to hear that punitive damages are very rarely available in this jurisdiction. Parliaments throughout Australia legislated at the beginning of the twenty-first century to bar courts from awarding punitive damages in all but a handful of situations. It is only in very rare personal injury cases that the courts retain the power to order the defendant to pay punitive damages.

Aggravated damages

Another species of money awards is aggravated damages. Their precise nature and purpose is not well understood. However, according to one view, aggravated damages are ordered with a view to requiring the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for mental distress suffered on account of the way in which the defendant injured the plaintiff. Aggravated damages, like punitive damages, have essentially gone the way of the dinosaur in Australia. Legislation prohibits the courts from awarding them. The possibility that they can be obtained in a personal injury case is now, essentially, only a theoretical possibility.


The foregoing means that, for the most part, damages awards in Australia in personal injury cases are effectively limited to what is known as compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are damages that are calculated according to the size of the plaintiff’s loss, their aim being to put the plaintiff back into the position that he or she would have been but for the defendant’s wrong.

If you have been injured in an accident, you may be eligible to receive compensatory damages. For more information, please contact Stacks Goudkamp on 1800 25 1800, or make an online enquiry, to arrange a free, no-obligation assessment of your claim.

Written by Dr James Goudkamp.

James Goudkamp is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oxford. He is the author of numerous books about personal injury compensation. James also practices as a barrister in London and assists Tom Goudkamp and his team with personal injury claims with a European connection.